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Trial and court-appointed (mis)representation
(a brief aperçu)

Dorian Lester and his co-defendant were arrested on 1 October 1997 and charged with murder (Lester's co-defendant and companion was originally charged with grand larceny, but when she declined to implicate and testify against him, she was then charged as a co-perpetrator).

Dorian Lester was provided with two court-appointed attorneys, Denise Lunsford and Tom Love, and in the run up to the trial, a more experienced attorney was added to the team, Steven Rosenfield (now retired).

The co-defendant was able to replace her court-appointed attorney with the renowned firm of Zwerling & Kemler (Lisa Kemler successfully defended Lorena Bobbitt, while John Zwerling is a criminal defense attorney of national stature and repute). This formidable team provided her defense and, on identical evidence, obtained an acquittal, completely opposite the verdict in the Lester case.

Weeks before his own trial, scheduled for April 1998, and when funds finally became available, Dorian Lester presented a pre-trial motion, requesting a postponement in order to retain and brief private counsel. The motion was denied, thus precluding Dorian Lester from exercising his right to adequate representation while facing the ultimate penalty - capital punishment.

Here follows a letter from Dorian Lester, addressed to Judge Swett. The letter has been sealed, and is unavailable for public scrutiny. However, we are in possession of the original draft...

Your Honor,

At this time, I am in the process of establishing a defense team that is experienced and prepared to represent me adequately on all the charges levied against me, now pending in your court. As a major positive step in the building of my defense, I respectfully request the removal of my current acting lead attorney, Denise Y. Lunsford, Esq.

Ms. Lunsford has no experience in capital defense cases. It is my understanding that until taking a two-day course recently, she was unqualified to even participate in such a case. She has neglected to interview key witnesses and obtain statements from them, as I have requested of her. She has demonstrated total disregard for my input, wishes and direction in favor of her own decisions, with no explanation to me. She has failed to keep me informed on matters concerning my case despite my repeated inquiries.

Moreover, she has been ineffective in court to date, and seemingly unprepared, leaving me uninformed and very uncomfortable. Ms Lunsford has told me on numerous occasions that she has a large caseload and is too busy. Your Honor, in my view, Ms Lunsford is rendering me misrepresented at best. I have lost all confidence in my attorneys' abilities and respectfully request, again, their removal from my case.

I thank you for your attention and decisive action in this matter.

Dorian Gill Lester


In the final days of his trial, Dorian Lester approached the bench and requested the judge to declare a mistrial on the following grounds:

  • He had repeatedly objected to the attorneys chosen by the State to represent him.

  • He objected to their line of defense, to which he did not subscribe and of which he had not been made aware.

  • Exculpatory evidence had been withheld without previous consultation with him.

  • His 6th Amendment rights were being violated.

  • He had expected his attorneys to present a robust rather than mitigation style defense... in declining the "life over death" offer of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he had indicated strongly that he wanted to plead innocence v. guilt. He was effectively precluded from arguing his innocence.


Dorian Lester was convicted on purely circumstantial evidence. Key prosecution witnesses changed their testimony at the trial of his co-defendant, two months later, under the robust cross-examination of defense counsel. Police detectives were compelled to admit to falsifying records and manipulating witnesses.

The law is very clear on cases of circumstantial evidence - there must be proof beyond reasonable doubt in order to convict. However, during the jury selection process at the co-defendant's trial, a potential juror with a knowledge of the Lester trial, and the foreman of the jury, admitted that jurors were uncertain about his guilt... it was because of this that they had stopped short of handing down a recommendation for capital punishment.

Links to further background and details of this astonishing story:

The Dorian Lester Fund - main page

Personal and professional background
(how to get indicted)

The Hillary Clinton connection

Political boudoir

Trial and court appointed (mis)representation
A brief aperçu

Dorian's trial address to Judge Swett

Post-trial injustice

Access to Justice home